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Deirdre Boyd

October 30, 2013

EMPATHIC PEOPLE ARE NATURAL TARGETS FOR SOCIOPATHS – PROTECT YOURSELF

The empathy trap: therapists and counsellors almost by definition are empathic, to facilitate clients’ recovery – but this quality can mean those carers are targets for sociopaths, aided by what Dr Jane & Tim McGregor call “apaths”. The first UK article on this cruel sport shows how to identify and thus avoid it. 

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Fotolia_40289070_OllyPeople targeted by a sociopath often respond with self-deprecating comments like “I was stupid”, “what was I thinking” of “I should’ve listened to my gut instinct”. But being involved with a sociopath is like being brainwashed. The sociopath’s superficial charm is usually the means by which s/he conditions people.

On initial contact, a sociopath will often test other people’s empathy, so questions geared towards discovering if you are highly empathic or not should ring alarm bells. People with a highly empathic disposition are often targeted. Those with lower levels of empathy are often passed over, though they can be drawn in and used by sociopaths as part of their cruel entertainment.

Sociopaths make up 25% of the prison population, committing over twice as many aggressive acts as other criminals. The reoffending rate of sociopaths is about double that of other offenders, and for violent crimes it is triple.

But not all sociopaths are found in prison. There is the less-visible burden of sociopath-induced emotional trauma which, if left unchecked, can lead to anxiety disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Chronically traumatised people often exhibit hypervigilant, anxious and agitated behaviour, symptoms such as tension headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances, abdominal pain, back pain, tremors and nausea.

Exposure to and interaction with a sociopath in childhood can leave lifelong scars. This can apply to people in therapy – and for those who in recovery trained as therapists, re-exposure as an adult can trigger old emotions and PTSD.

This article is not about sociopaths per se but about surviving the harm they cause.

EVERYDAY SOCIOPATHS

Fotolia_81707_Christy ThompsonMany sociopaths wreak havoc in a covert way, so that their underlying condition remains hidden for years. They can possess a superficial charm, and this diverts attention from disturbing aspects of their nature.

The following case history illustrates how people can be systematically targeted until they feel they can barely trust their own sense of reality – what we call “gaslighting”. Sociopathic abuse is targeted abuse. It can wreck lives. Victims can become survivors, but at huge cost.

At school, ‘James’ took a dislike to a classmate, ‘Sam’, who was sensitive and popular. He would mock him for auditioning for the school play or for getting upset over failing a test. The situation deteriorated when it became known that Sam’s parents were separating. Sam appeared to be taking it with fortitude, to the admiration of his peers. He also got attention and sympathy from the school staff, especially James’ favourite teacher: ie, the one he manipulated most easily.

James decided on a plan of covert bullying. He started a whispering campaign implying that Sam’s parents were not splitting up, that he had said they were in order to seek attention. Sadly, this was all too successful and over the next few days Sam was met with silence and verbal bullying from his hitherto-supportive classmates.

James continued his campaign, targeting Sam’s close friends over the next few days. They found themselves accused of misdemeanours such as sending offensive emails/texts. Then the ‘favourite’ teacher went on “leave with immediate effect” after accusations of assaulting a pupil. Where had the accusations come from? Guess.

This case shows how deliberately sociopaths, from a young age, can target others. Taking advantage of people’s credibility and goodwill, James exploited the situation. With a more perceptive head teacher, this sociopath might have been found out, but he knew who to manipulate and how far he could go.

SEE THE EMPEROR/EMPRESS’S CLOTHES

Fotolia_13258383_francesco pirroneTo deal with sociopaths effectively, you first need to open your eyes. In The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson, two weavers promise the emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those who are stupid and unfit for their positions. When the emperor parades before his subjects, all the adults, not wishing to be seen in a negative light, pretend they can see the clothes. The only truthful person is a child who cries “But he isn’t wearing any clothes!”. You, too, need to see sociopaths as they really are.

We are conditioned to keep quiet, which often means turning a blind eye to or putting up with abuse. The boy in the tale represents those who see the problem behaviour for what it is and find the courage of their convictions to make a stand. Sight becomes insight, which turns into action. Awareness is the first step in limiting the negative effects of contact with a sociopath.

INTERACTIONS OF THE SOCIOPATH

Fotolia_1661991_Rade LukovicLet’s look at what we term the Socio-Empath-Apath Triad, or Seat. Unremitting abuse of other people is an activity of the sociopath that stands out. To win their games, sociopaths enlist the help of hangers-on: apaths.

The apath. We call those who collude in the sport of the sociopath apathetic, or apaths. In this situation, it means a lack of concern or being indifferent to the targeted person.
We have highlighted the  importance of seeing the problem for what it is via the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, which represents the collective denial and double standards which are often a feature of social life. The apath in this context is someone who is willing to be blind: ie, not to see that the emperor/empress is naked.

Apaths are an integral part of the sociopath’s arsenal and contribute to sociopathic abuse. Sociopaths have an uncanny knack of knowing who will assist them in bringing down the person they are targeting. It is not necessarily easy to identify an apath; in other circumstances, an apath can show ample empathy and concern for others – just not in this case. The one attribute an apath must have is a link to the target.

How apaths, who might otherwise be fair-minded people, become involved in such destructive business is not hard to understand, but it can be hard to accept. The main qualifying attribute is poor judgment resulting from lack of insight. They might be jealous of or angry at the target, and thus have something to gain from the evolving situation.

At other times, the apath might not want to see the ‘bad’ in someone, particularly if the sociopath is useful. Or they might choose not to see because they have enough on their plate and do not possess the wherewithal or moral courage to help the targeted person at that time. Usually, be it active or passive involvement, the apath’s conscience appears to fall asleep. It is this scenario that causes people blindly to follow leaders motivated only by self-interest.

Readers might know of Yale University professor Stanley Milgram’s experiments to test the human propensity to obey orders, as participants gave increasingly large electric shocks to subjects. Afterwards, he wrote an article, The Perils of Obedience: “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process”.

Apaths are often fearful people. They are the ones most likely to go with the flow, to agree that the emperor/empress is wearing new clothes. They might also fail to perceive the threat: a danger is of no importance if you deny its existence. An apath’s response to a sociopath’s call to arms can then result from a state of ‘learned helplessness’. Apaths behave defencelessly because they want to avoid unpleasant or harmful circumstances [including the sociopath turning on them]. Apathy is an avoidance strategy.

Fotolia_2913334_Andreas GradinThe empath. Often, the person targeted by the sociopath is an empath. Empaths are ordinary people who are highly perceptive and insightful and belong to the 40% of human beings who sense when something’s not right, who respond to their gut instinct. In The Emperor’s New Clothes, the empath is the boy who mentions the unmentionable: that there are no clothes.

In the 1990s, researchers suggested that there was a positive relationship between empathy and emotional intelligence. Since then, that term has been used interchangeably with emotional literacy. What this means in practice is that empaths have the ability to understand their own emotions, to listen to other people and empathise with their emotions, to express emotions productively and to handle their emotions in such a way as to improve their personal power.

People are often attracted to empaths because of their compassionate nature. A particular attribute is that they are sensitive to the emotional distress of others. Conversely, they have trouble comprehending a closed mind and lack of compassion in others.

Very highly empathic people can find themselves helping others at the expense of their own needs, which can lead them to withdraw from the world at times.

It is odd.  Most of us enjoy watching films and reading books about heroes who refuse to go along with the crowd, which suggests there is something admirable about people who make a bold stand. But in real life, watching someone raise their head above the parapet often makes the rest of us feel queasy. Most – the 60% majority – prefer the easy life. It was interesting to discover, when doing the research for this book, how often people see empaths in problematical terms.

Empaths use their ability to emphasise and to boost theirs and others’ wellbeing and safety. Problems arise for empaths, however, when there are apaths in the vicinity. Empaths can be brought down, distressed and forced into the position of the lone fighter by the inaction of more apathetic types round them.

THE SOCIOPATHIC TRANSACTION

Fotolia_9829817_SOften empaths are targeted by sociopaths because they pose the greatest threat. The empath is usually the first to detect that something is not right and express what s/he senses. As a consequence, the empath is both the sociopath’s number one foe and a source of attraction; the empath’s responses and actions provide excellent entertainment for sociopaths, who use and abuse people for sport.

The world of the empath is not for the faint-hearted. In the context we are discussing, empaths often find themselves up against not only the sociopath but often a flock of apaths as well. Apaths are afforded pole position in the sociopath’s intrigues. But this prime spot comes at a price for, in what we call the “sociopathic transaction”, the apath makes an unspoken Faustian pact with the sociopath, then passively or otherwise participates in the cruel sport.

SOCIOPATH-EMPATH-APATH TRIAD

Fotolia_3775904_PhotoenterpriseThe usual set-up goes like this: the empath is forced to make a stand on seeing the sociopath say or do something underhand. The empath challenges the sociopath, who straight away throws others off the scent and shifts the blame on to the empath. The empath becomes an object of abuse when the apath corroborates the sociopath’s perspective.

The situation usually ends badly for the empath and sometimes also for the apath, if their conscience returns to haunt them or they later become an object of abuse themselves. But, frustratingly, the sociopath often goes scot free.

Sociopaths rarely vary this tried-and-tested formula because it virtually guarantees them success.
Sociopaths draw in apaths by various means: flattery, bribery, disorienting them with lies. A sociopath will go to any lengths to win her game. The best way to illustrate the interplay, and the ease with which apaths are pulled in, is by another short story.

Fotolia_40700273_Olly‘Steve and Robin’ were microbiologists at a prestigious university, collaborating on an important vaccine trial. The department head, Ben, hoped to gain substantially; success could see his status in his field rise and prove the catalyst for a glittering career.

His colleagues worked relentlessly collecting data, then Ben drafted a paper for submission to a respected journal. He decided that the outcome didn’t look tantalising, so falsified key results in order to present findings in the best light. On completing the draft, he sent the paper for comment to his colleagues. Steve replied by email that he was happy with the manuscript; he used the opportunity to suck up to his boss. But Robin was aghast, noting colossal errors. With great urgency, he rattled off an email to Ben.

Receiving no response to this or a phone call, Robin went to find Ben in person, discovering him in the cafeteria with Steve. But he was too late.  Ben had poisoned Steve’s mind, saying that Robin had challenged him over the accuracy of the results, due to a longstanding grudge. Ben said he had to pull Robin up about his own work several months back. Steve was different, Ben implied. He intimated Steve would be on course for promotion “especially if we get this paper out and secure funding for the next-stage trials”.

By the time Ben joined them, Steve, though initially shocked, had been won over by Ben’s swift flattery and insinuations

Robin crossed the cafeteria to them. “Hi, you two got a moment?” Briefly there was an awkward silence. Steve exchanged a look with Ben, who gave a slight conspiratorial smile, now that the transaction was done and the sport under way. “Yes, we were just talking about the paper. By the way, I did see your email, but if you look at the paper thoroughly, I think you’ll find that everything is correct.” Steve replied with a smug look that “I’m with Ben on this one”. Robin was floored. “You can’t be serious? You’re happy for it to go off to be reviewed with all these serious errors? Our reputations will be left in ruins.”

He decided to make a stand. He asked for his name to be removed as a co-author but was exasperated to learn that it was sent off to the journal anyway. More frustratingly, it was published. Meanwhile, the workplace became a source of stress for Robin as he struggled to cope with the backlash from colleagues who saw his intervention as an attempt to sabotage their work. People avoided him and, when they did talk to him, the conversation was stilted.

Eventually Robin arranged a meeting with Ben to have it out once and for all. But Ben took control of the agenda. “Robin, I have to be honest with you, many of your colleagues are unhappy about the way you handled things and some have made complaints. They don’t trust you to conduct yourself professionally after you attempted to sabotage their hard work. Mercifully the reviewers saw what a fine trial we’d conducted and didn’t get wind of your attempted slur.

“We can’t afford to have a saboteur on the team. So I’ve discussed this with the dean and he agrees there is no future for you here, and there’s no other way to deal with this. You’ve got to go.”
Any phase of this story sound familiar?

THE GASLIGHTING EFFECT

GaslightIn the story above, the actions of Ben and Steve have a ‘gaslighting’ effect on Robin. Gaslighting is a systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality. The syndrome gets its name from the play and films of the same name in which a murderer strives to make his wife doubt her sanity and get others to disbelieve her.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented in such a way as to make the target doubt his/her memory and perception. Psychologists call this “the sociopath’s dance”.  It could involve denial or staging of strange events.

This is Machiavellian behaviour of the worst kind. And anyone can become a victim of the sociopath’s gaslighting moves: parent and child, in-laws, friends, groups of people including work colleagues.
Psychotherapist Christine Louise de Canonville describes different phases that the abuser leads the relationship through:
>>  the idealisation stage, where the sociopath shows herself in the best possible light – but this phase is an illusion, to draw her target in
>>  the devaluation stage begins gradually so the target is not alert to the sociopath’s transformation to being cold and unfeeling, but will begin to feel devalued at every turn; the more distressed the target becomes, the more the sociopath enjoys her power, and her abuse can become more extreme
>>  the discarding stage – the target is reduced to an object to which the sociopath is indifferent, seeing the game as won; the sociopath rejects any connection, moving on to the next target.

Gaslighting does not happen all at once so, if you suspect in the early stages of a relationship that you are being gaslighted, you can protect yourself by walking away.

To learn more, including how to recover from exposure to a prolonged sociopathic transaction, buy The Empathy Trap: Understanding antisocial personalities by Dr Jane and Tim McGregor (Sheldon Press, ISBN 978-1847092762).

DR JANE McGREGOR is a freelance trainer and lecturer at the Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham. She holds a PhD in public health and worked in the NHS and voluntary sector, mostly in the field of addiction treatment.

TIM McGREGOR is freelance consultant and trainer, and a mental-health practitioner of many years’ standing. He has worked in the NHS and voluntary sector, most recently as a commissioning adviser.

Comments

Michelle Mallon

I truly wish more people were writing and talking about this subject. So many victims of this type of abuse have no idea that what happened to them was not their fault. They internalize the blame and guilt the abusers places squarely on their heads. Mental Health professionals are under-equipped to recognize and treat victims of this type of abuse. Even more sadly, some of the very sociopaths you describe in your article are therapists themselves. With a front row seat to a victim's strengths, weaknesses, desires, fears, etc it is an ideal place for a sociopath to be. And the victims who are courageous enough to file a complaint get further traumatized when licensing boards don't understand what has taken place. Please keep writing about this. Victims need your voice.

Anna

Thank you so much for writing this. You have described in a nutshell the scenario of my life interacting with others since I was a child. I am a very perceptive empath and it has won me love and popularity with very few people. As I said I can remember as far back as my childhood being perceptive like this and it didn't make life easy.

For example my mean-tempered second grade teacher hating me because I saw through her chirpy facade she always put on in front of parents and others outside the classroom. I didn't mean to let on that I saw through, but I realize looking back that I did and she knew it and hated me for seeing through her and bullied me in front of the class excessively.

Group dynamics don't change much, from grade school all the way to adulthood. I have always been a very considerate and caring friend to the few who will give me a chance. But as a sensitive, caring, empathic introvert, I tend to get a)overlooked, or b) attacked and ostracized by the one sociopath in the group aided by all the apaths. You described my social challenges in one concise article.

That said, perhaps you could write further articles to help us introverted empaths learn to navigate the crazies out there. I am at a time in my life now where I am dealing with the significant aftermath of some very destructive behavior on the part of sociopaths.

Jane McGregor

We thank Addiction Today for writing this article and highlighting our work on the emerging theory of the sociopathic transaction and the players involved. We'd also like to point out in relation to the sociopath, empath and apath roles that these are roles we adopt at certain times and in certain situations. Most of us can develop our empathic abilities, however some individuals have zero empathy and their traits appear to be fixed. We have a page on Facebook that people are welcome to visit (The Empathy Trap Book page. We're also publishing a book called Coping with Difficult Families (Sheldon Press, Feb 2014) where some of the ideas expressed in The Empathy Trap are extended. In particular we look at the empathy spectrum and people dotted along it, and we provide supportive guidance on developing strategies for coping in daily life wherever you are on the empathy spectrum.

Jane and Tim McGregor

Stormyrain

I can truly relate. I have become a very untrusting woman. I do have family and friends in a very, tight and small circle. Being an empath makes life a struggle at times (job wise and socially). I have a hard time not "seeing" through peoples lies and deceit...I think my body language gives away my distrust for sociopaths.

kw

I have lost all family members due to my standing up & saying no more! They of course "sided" with the head of the house. They had too. Now 20+ yrs later - it is all my fault, the one who walked away. It leaves me in great pain - not ever able to fix not one relationship with this "family of mine" - How can I be the only empath in a family of 9. I was the easy target & black sheep, the person looking in from outside as my mother always said. What do I do now....

Lesley Dewar

Thank you so much for writing and publishing this. I suffered an extensive period of cyber bullying, instigated by a (would be) media personality, who is also expert in IT. A formidable combination of skills.

A sociopath, who has since been "outed" by one of his own apaths, after he turned on her; a high profile actress (who career he almost destroyed) and who called him out in public, and several of my own friends - who have since decided in his favour, rather than mine.

I am a high functioning empath. I often use a "tall poppy" picture on my Facebook page, because the school years described by others mirror my own.

I am very glad I read this. I understand a great deal more about why so much of my life experience has led me to being a quite singular person.

Debbie

I wish I had read this article sooner. I am an empath and proud of it !, although my work life has always been, shall we say 'traumatic' and I always seem to be on the receiving end of the office bully (aka sociopath!), at least now I can define myself and learn how to deal with these cruel and vile members of society. Up until today, I always thought it was 'me' with the problem!..

MICHAEL BRAVO

THIS IS A GOOD ARTICLE..I HAD NEVER HEARD THE TERM APATH BEFORE BUT NOW THAT I UNDERSTAND IT I SEE WHY I HAVE BEEN SLANDERED AND ATTACKED FOR 25 YEARS...BY BOTH PEOPLE WHO THINK THEY ARE MORAL AND UPRIGHT AND OF COURSE BY THESE VARIOUS PSYCHOPATHS THEMSELVES..THE PROBLEM WITH BEING THE VICTIM OF PSYCHOPATHS..IS THAT IT IS VERY HARD TO TELL WHO IS A SECONDARY PSYCHOPATH AND WHO IS AN APATH..NOT THAT IT MATTERS MUCH ,THE RESULT IS THE SAME. MORE ATTACKS...BY PEOPLE WHO DONT KNOW YOU AND DONT KNOW THEMSELVES...PSYCHOPATHS ALWAYS BLAME THEIR VICTIMS...THIS SHOULD BE CLEAR TO ANY PERSON INTERESTED IN PSYCOPATHY

Calistemon Gold

People in the caring professions need to be very careful. This is a great danger for community workers, medical personel, teachers...
I was befriended by a person 'SMC' who told me that her step mother committed suicide and she blamed SMC for driving her to it. This should have rung alarm bells for me, but I let SMC take over my data base etc while I was off sick, and she warned all my contacts that I could not be trusted to act professionally, and not to disclose information to me. I was devastated. All my work was lost and it looked very unprofessional to argue in public, so I withdrew. It took me a couple of years to regain confidence.

Marion

Thanks for this article. As a highly sensitive introverted person I can relate. I have been in these situations with sociopaths and apaths too many times. I wish I knew what was going on sooner so I wouldn't have wasted time blaming myself!

Clare

Thank you so much for this article. I have unfortunately just been going through this since March--May 2012 in my job. My boss basically went all out Sociopath on me, blocking my work and leaving me with PTSD for the past 6 months. Grievance at work raised, but we all know employers are apaths by nature as busines requires them to be so. I do not know if I should make a stand and take the matter to court - emails of false occurances, emails from personal accounts, work removed/hidden then returned late - thank you for this. Sadly many people find out about this too late as is the case for me. Still I am grateful for you affirming my thoughts on the matter.

ABHACHAWLAMOHANTY

TRUE ,THE SYSTEMIC EXPLOITATION BY SOCIOPATH IS NOT WELL RESEARCHED IN MODERN SOCIETY ,RESULTANT ,PSYCHOSOMATIC FALL OUT....NEEDS SERIOUS INTERVENTION ....FOR HEALTH ,CULTURE,AND GROWTH OF SOCIAL ETHOS ...

Manda

Thank you for this article. I have been extremely empathic since childhood. For the most part I have used this skill in my work as a healer. Most of relationships it was an asset, but the last one, not so.

I learned to see sociopathic behavior, before that it was not something I had experienced much, so in a way, I did not recognize it. My body, however, was trying to warn me. After 3 years of battling this demon my partner would become, I learned!

They tell you what you want to hear, make promises they forget a moment later. Usually have addictions to substances. They try to disempower you, make you feel worthless, weak, scared. They are afraid of love, afraid of light and since they can't tolerate feeling vulnerable, weak, they become sadistic.

The trick is not to be a victim and involve other people who you trust. They will try to isolate you. Trust your instincts, they rarely do what they say, if you see that, get out! It won't stop.

Sociopaths are people who had very traumatic childhoods, they usually learn sociopathic behavior as a way to cope with their own family environment. They will do whatever they need to, to protect #1. So you have to protect yourself by getting them out of your life.

The path to loving ourselves can be arduous, but you have to love and stand by yourself. It is this very strength they lack and desire to take from you. Call your energy back rom them and send all their's back with love. Let go and move forward! xoxo

Jennifer King

Wow. I am married and currently being divorced by a sociopath.
I am feeling the end results of the Gaslighting effect right at this moment. I am in recovery and have three years clean, and still living with this man.
Man, I am going to need counseling for the rest of my days!

John


The thing to remember is that almost everyone has a character they play in diffrent situations, versions of themselves etc.

Empathy should be used as a tool in this type of work, not a personal attachment.

Johny

Try reading the Celestine prophecy by James red field. He talks in depth about this issue and the different dramas people use to gain energy from others. These include the poor me, the aloof, the interrogator etc

Martha Garcia

Wow, this defines my previous job to a T. I was the respected veteran empath and I was pitted against a fairly high ranking sociopath in the company. She quickly grew to hate me and she singled me out simply because she knew I saw right through and questioned her on her BS from day one. She had to get rid of me somehow, and she did. I'm better off now, and she is still there. Ironically, one of the apaths became the empath after I left and now THAT person is being bullied and victimized by the same sociopath. That you for putting definitions on all of this!

Michelle M

Martha,
I don't know if you have read the book "Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity". It may be something that could really help you gain additional insight into the abuse you endured. A portion of the book is devoted to Narcissistic Abuse in the workplace. I bought several copies of this book and have lent them out to several friends who have been through something similar to you. The abuse rocked them to the very core. The book has helped them to find healing in their journey to finding themselves again. Maybe it could help you.

an-empath

This article was interesting for me because I have always been deeply empathic and have had a series of experiences with people who shocked me by showing socio-pathic behaviour after a period of closeness during which I failed to notice the signals. But I object to the "arsnal / arms / strategy" style of writing in this article. I think it is misleading. Socio-paths and apaths as they are referred to here can do harm without feelings of guilt or sorrow, and this is always kind of "horrific" for an empath to discover - but they are not just born like that. All types are are people that were victims in childhood; and their emotionally detached or "split off" behaviour is an adaptation / defense they have carried unconsciously from childhood into adulthood. Alice Miller has written many books about this, also Alexander Lowen- which explain very convincingly with many examples, the kind of suffering and emotional repression & isolation these children endure that leads to their destructive behaviour. They are not just "crazy, bad" people. Anyone who has suffered in the role of an empath should also become aware that their own conditioning as children - is what makes them particularly vulnerable to socio-pathic guises. Usually empaths are people whose needs as children came second to their parents needs for affirmation. As Miller explains, children are dependent on their parents and love them, meaning they will often do/suffer almost anything to win that love; in the case of empaths - they become little adults, or surrogate parents for their own parents, while learning from the beginning to repress and put to one side their own needs and feelings. As a result, they go out into life and are attracted to abusive, insecure people because they only feel loved / accepted through this role of 'coming to the rescue of others...' As an "empath" you have to learn that this compulsive repetition (and suffering as a result) will never stop until you learn to see what you are doing, looking for your own sense of self worth and confirmation through reaching out to and helping others - instead of putting your needs first. There are usually many warning signs they ignore because they seek the security of being "needed" by others.

I think it is very important not to encourage simplistic thinking of socio-paths and apaths as being "bad people" like the wolf in red riding hood. You have to see that they too as children were most likely abused, if not physically then emotionally - denied the kind of love and respect a healthy parent would provide, and forced to repress their natural emotional reactions of anger, rage, grief - as they were probably punished for this (because it threatened the unconscious defense mechanisms of their parents who also played roles and repressed their true selves, in order to "win love" from people, and feel secure). Lowen and Miller refer not to the socio or apath so much, but to narcissism, grandiosity, and splitting off of the self. Ultimately, all people with destructive behaviour - whether it is projected at others or themselves, are responding unconsciously to repressed suffering from their childhoods, and I agree with them that we need to confront our own conditioning and that of others, to really understand what is going on and break the cycle. There are very few truly, emotionally-adult people around these days because of generations of "poisonous pedagogy" and emotional repression transmitted from parent to child - even when they had the best intentions. But we can start to heal by opening our eyes and it starts with the self... and realising there are no "good and bad" people.. just a lot of abused children in adults bodies, with repressed anger in the unconscious. People who can learn to confront/express these repressed emotions on a conscious level, meaning in connection with the original source of suffering (their parents / care givers)- instead of substitute objects - are able to heal all kinds of physical and mental illnesses and rediscover their true sense of self and vitality thereby... I highly recommend these books: "Prisoners of Childhood: the drama of the gifted child and the search for the true self"; "For Your Own Good Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence", "The Truth will set you free: Overcoming Emotional Blindness and Finding Your True Adult Self"... also by A. Lowen: "Narcissism: Denial of the True Self"

Dr Jane McGregor

A response here from the authors of The Empathy Trap: Understanding Antisocial Personalities.

It has been interesting to hear from people and read comments on this article, which Addiction Today wrote and based on our book. In light of some of the issues raised in the comments/posts we wish to emphasise that the roles of sociopath, apath and empath are ones we adopt at certain times and in certain situations, and are not roles that are fixed. We are keen to promote an empathic culture not perpetuate a blaming one. We discuss the roles of sociopath, apath and empath in the context of the empathy spectrum (as defined by Simon Baron-Cohen) and the emerging science on empathy and in support of building empathy. Nevertheless the emerging science supports the views that there are some individuals who have zero empathy - whether they can develop empathy like the rest of us seem able to is an issue for ongoing research and debate. The book discusses the importance of dealing with apathy and promoting empathy as individuals and within culture. We view sociopathic abuse as a public health problem that adversely affects the lives and health of many, many people every day. To that end, the issue needs to be tackled wholesale - our institutions, communities, families and at level of the individual. The book provides supportive guidance on overcoming sociopathic abuse and manipulation for those unfortunate enough to have been badly affected by these issues. It suggests reducing apathy, and building empathy in culture as an antidote to abuse.

Jane and Tim McGregor

Gabrielle

This is the most accurate description I have seen to perfectly describe my sisters and family relationship; and as much as I loved them, my life got better when I let them go.

Annemarie Ward

This article describes perfectly my experience with 2 so-called experts in our field.
The first case study describes what happened to me when I questioned the status of Wiredin, an online website I had been involved in since its beginning, believing it was a charity. This turned out not to be true. An anonymous blog attempted to clarify this in 2010, and anyone interested can read the saga at

http://wiredtruth.blogspot.co.uk/

For the record, I still do not know who set up this blog.

The second case study describes perfectly my experience at the beginning of 2011 with a woman who had received £millions from the public purse and who put my organisation’s name (at that time the UKRF) as supporting a paper we had no part in writing, then submitted it to government ministers. This greatly furthered her career and funding, as she misled politicians into thinking she represented organisations she unilaterally named on her paper; conversely, she took credit for the paper’s policy which was not written by her. When I challenged her about this dishonesty, she patted me on the head, with excuses that I was unaware of the way things really worked politically and it would be beneficial to me and the UKRF to have our names on it. I insisted that it was not how I operated nor what I wanted – and, like the case studies in the McGregors’ article, she then not only disinvited us for any future discussions but instigated whispering campaigns and lies about my character, including that I was stalking her.

It is remarkable how often this type of behaviour goes on in our field, contrary to our ethos. More importantly, the consequences of this type of behaviour have immeasurable impact on everyone seeking help.

Those who are aware of the political landscape will know the impact I mean. The recovery agenda, in my opinion, is greatly damaged by it.

Bob Thomas

I lost a job 4 years ago at an institution that I loved very much and was very connected to personally through exactly this sort of scenario. I was well liked by the individuals I served and for the most part by the board. I felt I was doing a good job and successful at it. A new executive director was hired and the ensuing process of my elimination began. I was dumbfounded and confused at what was happening, could not find a way to change the path, did not know why I was being treated as I was. The 2.5 year process of abuse and humiliation necessary to eliminate me unfolded just as described in this article. I was helpless to make a change even as I sensed that childhood pathology was at work on both sides. My empathy got me nowhere. I was surrounded by "apathy" and as someone who has always dealt with low self esteem, I walked away completely shattered and unable to trust any of my talents and abilities. I appreciate the validation of my experience that this article creates. Being aware of what may drive a person to such persecution, perhaps as an automatic rather than studied act doesn't seem to offer any hope for changing an existing situation but only to indicate that it's time for the empathetic to move on. The fear of course is that it will just become a fixed pattern of life experience. Even at age 66 there's time for improvement. Thank you for bringing this to light.

isilzha

Thank you for your research and continued attention to this.

I have been 'sensitive' to others emotions for as long as I can remember. It's only recently I've been able to start understanding it, though. I have happy memories with my dad and his parents from very young, 3-4. My dad died when I was 7, leaving me with my mom and her family, since the two families didn't get along. The most horrific thing is to become aware that one's own mother was (and most likely still is) a sociopath, setting the stage for an even worse sociopath for an ex-husband.

I'm perhaps luckier than most and have managed to collect a group of truly exceptional friends who are willing to be on the lookout for my safety, now.

Hector M. Ramirez

This article really made me think about how people with disabilities are often times more likely to be in an abusive relationship. In particular people with invisible disabilities like mental health conditions. Our ability to empathize from others is more or less heightened by our own internal awareness which we are more accustomed to interpret.

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